SAN ANTONIO — Any football fan who has ever watched Oklahoma State senior Jordan Sterns or any other designated hitter throw himself into a collision with complete fearlessness probably asks the question:
From where does that uninhibited valor spring?
“I couldn’t tell you, man,” Sterns says. “I just think that was something I was born with.”
Sterns has guided the OSU defense for most of the last four years with that bravery, that inner fortitude that has otherwise turned football into a non-contact sport.
He is the increasingly rare defensive back that probably relishes tackling and hitting more than he enjoys playing pass coverage.
“His demeanor, he’s somewhat old school in his willingness to strike the other team,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. “It goes against human nature to want to collide with another human body. I don’t really think he gives a second thought about it.”
Sterns is one of a handful of Cowboys finishing the 2016 season in their hometown, the Alamo City. He’ll play his final college game on Thursday night when 12th-ranked OSU takes on No. 10 Colorado in the Alamo Bowl.
“We’ve been very fortunate to get good players who are quality people here,” Gundy said. “It’s been a real productive area for our program.”
Among them, Sterns stands out.
“He brings a little bit of toughness to our program,” Gundy said, “and especially our defense.”
Sterns goes into the Alamo Bowl with 320 career tackles, seventh in school history and most ever by a Cowboy defensive back.
Sterns surmises that fearlessness and toughness comes from a childhood growing up with big brothers.
Really big brothers.
“My older brothers, they toughened me up,” he said. “And they were some big guys back then. So there wasn’t too much to be afraid of when your brothers are beating up on you and toughening you up. So there really wasn’t too much I was ever afraid of.”
Sterns grew up in San Antonio but lived with his father and big brothers in Waxahachie during his seventh-grade year. Jamison is three years older than Sterns. James is five years older.
“He was about 5-10, 230 at that time,” Sterns said. “Big dude.
“So for a whole year I was living with them, they were wearing me out.”
Sterns learned how to be physical in football by playing basketball.
“They’d take me in the back yard and we’d play basketball and he’d be like, ‘Try to score on me,’ and it would get physical, pushing me around and stuff,” he said. “At first, I wouldn’t like it. Then I’d get mad and it’d turn into me really trying to score on him. Like I said, he was a big dude, man.”
Was this a case of big brothers shaping their little brother into manhood? Or were they just being mean?
“I think they knew what they were doing. They were just being big brothers,” Sterns said. “But at the same time, I was always tough but they knew I needed to be tougher. And what I learned from them, I taught to my little brothers. It’s kind of like they just passed it on.”
Sterns had previously lived only with his mother. That formative year ultimately helped shape him.
“That year, that really just changed my life in a lot of ways because I was around men more,” he said.
And it wasn’t just family. Sterns became familiar with much of the rest of the neighborhood that one year thanks to his brothers.
“They never left me out,” he said. “If we were playing pick-up basketball, I was the first person they picked up even if there was a bunch of old guys. So I’m going against guys much older than me. That’s another thing why I think I’m not scared to compete because I was playing against guys bigger than me, faster than me, all the time. That’s what I do with my brothers.”
Sterns has three teenage brothers, Caden, Jerreth and Josh, to whom he tries to impart similar life lessons. One lives in San Antonio, the others in Waxahachie.
“They’re getting what I was getting,” Sterns says, though from his new perspective, he thinks it’s probably not quite as much.
“It’s all about that brotherly love, man.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.